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Idaho Conservation League and Outdoor Alliance Push for Boulder-White Clouds Monument


The presentation John Robison, the public lands director for Idaho Conservation League, gave to a crowd of 25 at Idaho River Sports on the evening of April 16 is one he has given before—and it's one he's prepared to give again.

"I'll keep giving this presentation until the Boulder-White Clouds are protected," Robison told Boise Weekly. 

In recent years, Robison's organization has gotten heavily involved in pushing for national monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds—two mountain ranges near the Sawtooths in Idaho's Custer County. 

Robison and Tom Flynn, the regional director for the Outdoor Alliance, walked their audience through three simple steps to designating a national monument: make a case, get the president's signature, and create a management plan.

"We're in the 'making a case' phase now," Robison told the crowd. Of course, it isn't really so simple.

The idea of the Boulder-White Clouds being deemed a national monument has been met with wide opposition, especially from the pro-mining residents of Custer County, as well as environmentalists who think national monument protection isn't good enough and the area should be designated wilderness.

The April 16 presentation attracted 25 people to Idaho River Sports. - JIM GILMORE
  • Jim Gilmore
  • The April 16 presentation attracted 25 people to Idaho River Sports.
For Robison and Flynn, though, national monument designation is the more flexible and most attainable route. Without protection, advocates fear the mountain ranges will be open to mining, development, grazing, destructive motorized vehicle use and public officials who want to sell off public land.

The effort to protect the area goes back 40 years. In the past decade, several Wilderness plans have been brought to Congress, but each has failed. At the April 16 presentation, Robison said that in the fall of 2014, Rep. Mike Simpson promised  "by the end of next year, [the Boulder-White Clouds] will be a national monument or we will have passed a wilderness bill—one or the other." 

In early March, Simpson introduced a reincarnated  bill called Sawtooth National Recreation Area-Plus, which is a scaled-down version of wilderness bills he has proposed in the past. It would designate 280,000 acres as protected wilderness area, whereas the national monument proposal would encapsulate 591,000 acres. Sen. Jim Risch has also expressed support in the smaller wilderness bill.

Flynn and Robison aren't optimistic this one will pass, either.

"Congress can't find its way out of a paper bag right now," Robison said. "This [the monument designation] can get done in a stroke of a pen."

Expediency is another reason why they think a monument designation is the way to go. President Barack Obama has already signed 16 monuments into existence during his time in office. Robison said until then, he'll be playing "whack-a-mole" with potential mining proposals in the area. Robison and Flynn also said a national monument gives more flexibility in terms of recreational use like mountain biking and motorized vehicles, as well as land management plans like fire suppression, over wilderness designation.

To those who believe a national monument won't bring enough protection to the area, Robison says it's an argument that has cropped up in his own organization among staff and board members.

"But we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Robison said.

"There's opposition on the left and the right," added Flynn, "but it's gained enough support to be worthy of this designation." Robison pointed out there have been more controversial land conservation plans in the past.

"The only time Frank Church ever wore a bulletproof vest was over the Frank Church Wilderness," Robison said.
The yellow line represents the potential boundaries of the national monument. - BOULDERWHITECLOUDS.ORG
  • The yellow line represents the potential boundaries of the national monument.

Meeting participants were encouraged to sign a petition for the Boulder-White Clouds, which already has more than 13,200 signatures. One woman in the audience said signing a petition "just seems weak," though. She asked if there was anything else that could be done to get the area designated. 

The answer is pretty much "no," and now it's just a waiting game: The president's administration has to make its next move. Flynn explained there's another monument proposal from California ahead of the Boulder-White Clouds, but things for the Boulder-White Clouds may start moving towards the end of summer.

"We have the administration's attention," Robison said. "The next step is to have members of the administration fly out here and listen to the public. They'll only give a few days notice before that happens but when it does, we need everyone to show up and show support."

At the end of the presentation, folks milled around and headed home with only Flynn and Robison left in the store.

"We'll have to do more of these," Flynn said to Robison. "One room at a time until everyone is convinced."